Due to strict class schedules, you don’t see too many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) majors studying abroad, the fear of messing up course schedules and not being able to graduate within four years becomes a reality. To find out how it is possible to fit study abroad into your schedule, I spoke with Lina, a chemical engineering major from Vanderbilt, for some great advice for how to spend your semester abroad, at University College Cork.
How to Fit Study Abroad into your Schedule
According to Lina, the STEM students that can usually go abroad are “the people who are really ahead with AP credits or something like that.” But don’t despair, it is possible!
Research is key! Lina suggests doing the research on “foreign universities by looking at the courses that they offered and then checking back with [your] university to see if it could count for [your] core classes” ahead of time. This can save you a lot of stress in the long run. Lina advises reaching out to professors in advance. Lina comments, “I ended up having to jumble my schedule around for senior year, [and get] special permission from professors, but thankfully I will be able to graduate in 4 years!”
One of the important things to keep in mind while researching is that University College Cork has a separate visiting student’s book of modules. Unfortunately, Lina ran into a few problems at first. Lina confesses, “When I started researching, I was looking at the courses offered to everyone.” After discovering that there are only certain classes you can take as a visiting student, Lina had to rethink the class options available to her. Lina also recommends to keep in mind that “it was difficult to get a syllabus from a certain professor.” She suggests using the class listing in the book of modules and coordinate with study abroad advisors to make sure classes will count for your home university.
It’s also okay to not go to your dream destination for study abroad. At first Lina was really attracted to studying abroad in Australia, but the schedule did not work for her. Lina states, “I had to do a ton of research on schools [at which] I could do a January-May semester.” Looking at the semester timing is especially important if you plan to have an internship or job during university breaks. If your heart is set on studying abroad, you can make any university that will work with your classes into your dream. Lina emphasizes, “UCC was actually the only school where things could work out class-wise, but I am happy with my decision and have found Cork very charming and have really enjoyed it here!”
How to Adjust to Coursework Abroad
If you’re like most STEM majors I know (and in general any college student), you are always busy with homework, readings, labs, assignments – the list goes on and on – but at University College Cork it may not be the same amount or type of coursework you are used to. Lina explains, “Compared to the states, it’s a lot easier …the professor just lectures and there aren’t really assignments or accountability until the end.” With this style of lecture and coursework, Lina says, “it is an adjustment to get used to having a bit more freedom.” Her best advice is to work ahead, although it may be stressful.
Your study abroad semester also provides you with a unique opportunity to mix up your courses. According to Lina, she is only taking two engineering classes, with “the rest being intro-level classes in other topics, which is also unusual for what my load at home would be.” As for what you can expect from engineering courses at UCC, Lina advises, “I am in upper level engineering courses here, I’ve found that they are a lot less intense, and provide more of a qualitative conceptual approach.”
How to make the most of your time at University College Cork
So what do you do with all that extra time? Lina suggests, “Take advantage of the free time by doing things you always wanted to do when you had the time!” It is especially rewarding to take the “time to check out student clubs and societies”, because it is a great way to meet Irish students who are interested in the same things as you are.
Specifically, Lina raves of one society that you should think of joining – Engineers without Borders. Lina comments, “First off, it was really nice to meet other engineering students and learn more about how they do things here at UCC…it’s nice to have that as a foundation to making friends!” Lina also got more than she expected from the experience when she decided to join one of their philanthropic programs, called Age Action which pairs her up with an elderly person in the community to teach them computer skills in a 1-1 learning environment.
At first, Lina thought, “It would be really cool to get to know an older Irish person, since I’m spending so much time with students”, but as she worked with this community member more and more, she has realized, “it’s helped me see that I have something to offer someone, even if it’s not this super technical skill.”
Recently Lina has been “showing her how to use various apps on her iPad, how to send pictures and save them to Dropbox, how to work with Microsoft Word and PowerPoint, and last time we created a card for a family member of hers,” and plans to include her experience when applying for professional opportunities. Lina reflects that the experience has helped her to learn more about how she sees herself as a person, job candidate and engineer. She concludes, “It feels good to know that a basic every-day skill that I have can be empowering for someone else who can’t go about it with as much ease as I can.”
Kiely Goss was a Psychology Major and Elementary Education Certificate Candidate at Connecticut College and studied abroad with IFSA at University College Cork in Ireland during the Spring 2018 semester. She served as an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-To-Study Program.